Winter is Here: What's Happening in Vineyards

A snow covered vineyard at sunrise. Black vines against white snow, a large windmill in hte centre of the vineyard and the sky is streaked with orange, pink and purple

Photo: Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards

“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” – Paul Theroux 

By Erin Henderson

Winter is one of my favourite times to visit wine country: the crowds are gone, the cold air is refreshing, and the snow-draped vineyards are simply stunning.

To the untrained eye, it’s almost as if Old Man Winter froze time, keeping wineries in hibernation until the spring thaw. It’s quiet, peaceful, and slow. But, as I said, that’s to the untrained eye.

“We’re preparing the vines for the growing season,” my friend, Dean Stoyka, winemaker for Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake told me.

Vines, like any perennial plant, turn dormant in the cold months. After a busy autumn expanding their root system or maturing buds for the next year, vines need to rest. They begin shutting down around November, dropping leaves and slowing growth to store much need carbohydrates for the spring (think of a bear in hibernation and waking up again when the weather turns warm.)

But as vines rest, that’s when winemakers and viticulturists get busy. Pruning and shaping the vines is crucial work to be done now – not just for the next growing season – but for many years down the road.

“If you’re only thinking about the current season, you’re way too short sighted,” warned Dean. “A lot of the time I’m thinking five to 10 years down the line.”

Winter pruning usually happens around January, when the vines are sound asleep and there’s no risk for harming the vine through cutting. Canes, last year’s shoots that carried grapes, are selectively removed to optimize vine growth and grape development for the following summer. Pruning has a more laid-back schedule than the frenzy of harvest, but it’s still vital to the success of the winery.

“Arguably the most important thing we can do for the year is the pruning.”

As the vines are being pruned, so is the general upkeep of the vineyard: fixing fence posts, repairing wires, looking at what will be needed for the growing season.  

“It’s nothing exciting,” Dean laughs. “You just go out and you farm.”



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